ESO’s Lack of Stickiness

I’ve owned The Elder Scrolls Online for about two years now. It’s a really great game; its business model is one of my personal favorites–buy-to-play with an optional subscription that actually feels both worth it and truly optional at the same time–its graphics are beautiful, and, while I still prefer tab target MMOs, the gameplay has really grown on me. I recently decided to pass on the Summerset expansion (there’s plenty of this game I haven’t seen, and jewelry crafting and a new magic skill line aren’t enough to entice me), but I’ve had the itch to play again anyway. So why is it that, every time I try to come back, I never seem to stick around for more than a few weeks?

Depressingness
The first reason is one that I talked about recently: the game is super depressing. In pretty much every quest line, someone ends up dead and everyone is sad. In most MMOs when you hear “My husband is missing! Please find him!” he’s probably just been taken captive by brigands or something. Sure, every once in a while they’re dead, but in ESO you hear a quest like that and you just want to say “Sorry, but he’s probably been fed to demons or something. It’s probably for the best that you just forget about him,” and keep walking. It sounds heartless, but if you pursue the quest, the guy’s wife or kid or someone will probably end up getting themselves killed in a mad quest for vengeance. It’s a world I very much don’t want to live in, which doesn’t make me want to spend my free time there.

Nobody To Play With
I don’t have many friends who play MMOs right now (I had a few for a while, but between Fortnite: BR and real life stressors, not so much anymore), but none of them are in ESO right now. This game’s group content looks really fun to me, but with no friends to play with and really bad luck finding guilds that don’t fall apart within months, I haven’t gotten to see much of it. Also, with level scaling, at what level are you even useful in dungeons?

Lack of an Auction House
I’d really like to mess with this game’s housing and furniture crafting, but unless I want to decorate a hotel room (or at best a one bedroom apartment), I need a decent amount of gold to buy a house. And it’s really hard to make gold when you can’t sell to other players without joining a trade guild that has a vendor in a good city. And to get into one of those guilds, you have to pay a monthly tax or get booted. Given that I’m already not very consistent in playing, I doubt I’d last very long in one of those. I’m sure there are some out there without a tax, but, as I said before, I’ve had a hard enough time finding guilds that last that just to PvE content, let alone ones rich enough to have a trader.

The Usual Suspects
Then, of course, there are the usual reasons why I don’t last in an MMO: Things like all of the classes (and different ways to play those clsases) look fun, and I can’t get one leveled before getting distracted by something shinier. Also demotivating is inventory management. This game throws a lot of crafting materials and deconstructible gear at you, and bigger bags get expensive after a while (see above rant about money). Logging into a character with a full inventory and no quick way to dig it out is a sure way to get me to log out and play something else. And, of course, there are so many other things to play.

One of these days I’m hoping this game will click with me. It’s certainly been clicking for a the last few days, so hopefully that means something. If anyone knows of a good guild (preferably with a trader), let me know! That would definitely go a long way toward making this game stick.

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Six Months Later, Still Mourning Marvel Heroes

“Temporarily Unavailable”

Half a year ago today, my favorite low-stress, sort-of-MMO went dark, amid a flurry of weird circumstances and mishandling on the part of the studio and Disney. Do we really know why it folded exactly? I’m not sure. I think I stopped paying attention when the end was clearly upon us.

The worst part is that it has kind of ruined Marvel media for me. My wife has recently gotten into the Squirrel Girl series (which is excellent, by the way!), and, given that she was one of my favorite characters in Heroes, reading those comics always dredges up memories of shooting squirrels at everything in Midtown (Death From The Trees! Hulkbuster Squirrels! Squirrelpocalypse!). Infinity War was also painful, not because of the characters they killed off (seriously, if you want me to be sad about characters dying, don’t kill off ones who are currently shooting another movie), but because of the game they killed off six months earlier.

I feel a little silly talking about some dumb video game, and, let’s be honest, a sometimes mediocre one at that, like I’ve lost an old friend. But I think other gamers who have had a game that they thought would be there for years to come unceremoniously yanked out from under them will understand. Ask anyone who played City of Heroes (man, what is it with super hero MMOs?) or Star Wars Galaxies anything about those games and you will get a long nostalgia trip about how great it was and how there’s nothing else out there quite like it. Well, now I understand those people a little better.

I’m still hoping someone will come up with a way to do an emulator/private server. I’d love to play this game again, even if it’s just as a single player experience.

Why Are Games So Depressing Lately?

The other day I was feeling kind of down–nothing major, just normal stressful life stuff–so I thought I’d jump on a few MMOs to escape reality for a bit. First I got on LotRO. I’m in Mordor and, well, it’s not exactly a cheery place, so that didn’t last long. So I logged off of that and thought I’d try Guild Wars 2. The character I’ve been running through the story on is just starting Orr… land of zombies, ruins, and undead dragon corruption. Not much better. The Elder Scrolls Online offered me a quest that involved a daughter murdering her father because he betrayed and murdered his son. Diablo III… well, everything’s depressing in Diablo, isn’t it?

I’m not looking for Rainbow Puppy Fun Times Online, but why does everything have to be so dark? There are even some games, like Secret World or Path of Exile, that I avoid completely because, while the gameplay sounds fun, one look at a screenshot or video is enough to tell me that I won’t last long because of the setting. So why do games get so depressing? I know I’m not the only one who has gotten burnt out on a game because they went from a starting zone that was colorful and cheery to one that was Fifty Shades of Brown. I think the idea is for the location to create a sense of desperate struggle against evil, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire expansion has done a great job of telling a story of a desperate struggle in a place that is absolutely freaking beautiful. I used to log into Marvel Heroes at times like this. It was light and fun without involving much thought. But now that that’s gone I haven’t found anything else to fill that gap.

So what gives, game devs? Life is depressing enough as it is! Why do games have to bring me down too?

LotRO: Walking Into Mordor

I finally did it. I walked into Mordor, and I have the title to prove it. They said one simply could not do it, yet here I am.

You ask, “but last time you posted about Lord of the Rings Online, weren’t you were in Moria on a rune-keeper?” Yes I was. And I finished Moria, too, by the way, and I still love my rune-keeper and I have been working my way through southern Mirkwood with him lately. “Then what are you doing in Mordor with your old captain that you haven’t played in a couple of years?” Excellent question, hypothetical reader with a surprising knowledge of my many alts! The answer is that I finally broke down and bought the Moria collector’s edition and boosted my cappy to 105.

I’m not gonna lie, it was a bit of a rough week/month for me, and this was kind of a stress buy. Plus it was on sale, and apparently I can’t resist a sale. I was recently playing with my friend on his captain, and it reminded me of how much fun I used to have with that class. Unfortunately, my captain was also half way through Moria, so redoing the content I just did on my rune-keeper didn’t sound very appealing. A level boost seemed like the perfect remedy for this situation, and one just happened to be included with the collector’s edition of Mordor. And honestly, at the rate I plod through content in this game, I’m starting to worry that I’ll never see a lot of the later content before the game shuts down (not that I’m expecting that any time really soon, but realistically, it’s not going to be around forever).

Several things jump out at me upon boosting from Moria/Siege of Mirkwood content straight to content that’s less than a year old. First is just how much better this game’s graphics have gotten. The graphics in Eriador show their age, though there are certain places where it really doesn’t matter; the landscapes are absolutely gorgeous despite 2007’s technical limitations. The graphics in Mordor are significantly improved, with some really nice texture and animation work. Yes, to a certain extent, it still looks like a game from 2007–most NPCs’ textures still look painted on, with no facial animation or overly fancy armor meshes, and of course some of those same awkward animations are still there and just as awkward as they were back in the day–but still, the improvement is striking, especially not having progressed slowly and naturally through the areas added by the various expansions. Second is that, while I thought ahead enough to boost a character who had all of their skills unlocked and whose rotation I was familiar with, I have no idea how to do mounted combat and the Aria gives you zero mount XP. So far it has only been a problem here and there, so hopefully it won’t be of a big deal, but still, it would have been nice if they had boosted my mount’s level as well as my character’s.

I am also once again reminded of what a great job this game has done with its worldbuilding. Granted, as much of it as is reasonably possible is pulled straight from the pages of Tolkien’s books, but I think that master wordsmith would be proud of what Turbine/Standing Stone has added to his legendarium. And the attention to detail never ceases to amaze me! Frodo is even missing a finger in the scenes after the ring is destroyed! I had to fiddle around with my camera for a few minutes to even check. A lesser studio wouldn’t have bothered to create a new nine-fingered character model, or at best just slapped a bandage texture over his ring finger. That’s dedication!

The Mordor collector’s edition also came with the High Elf race and a character slot. While I’m trying to resist the temptation to create yet another alt, I figured I’d at least run through the unique tutorial instance they created to shoehorn in this minutely different, anachronistic set of elves. It was cool to get to be a part of The Last Alliance and see the Free Peoples’ first encounter with the Nazgul, though I was kind of disappointed I didn’t actually get to be there for the defeat of Sauron. Rather, I got stabbed with a Morgul blade à la Frodo, which apparently, rather than turn them into a wraith as the Witch-King thought, causes High Elves sleep for three thousand years. I also thought it was cool that they start you out with a set of armor that looks like the one you wore in the tutorial, but old, tarnished, and complete with a tattered cape. Not only is it sometimes nice to have gear that isn’t in totally pristine condition, it also makes sense for something that’s been taking up space in Elrond’s Attic for a few millennia.

All told, I’m really happy with my purchase, and really happy to be back in LotRO.

Crusaders of Light: The Okayest Mobile MMO I’ve Ever Played

I’m not a big fan of mobile games in general. Mobile lends itself to the worst kinds of free-to-play games; your smartphone is easily accessible, especially in short bursts, and many people have their credit card information saved to their account, so it’s the perfect venue for lockboxes, wait-to-play, pay-to-win/pay-to-advance, and other annoying marketing strategies hoping to capitalize on impulsive spenders. Add to that the fact that touch controls are inherently awkward and imprecise, and it’s just not a very good platform for games. There are some gems–Mage Gauntlet, Bloons TD 5, Implosion, and a few ports like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Final Fantasy III and IV come to mind–but most of them are paid games, and honestly I’d choose to play all of those on my PC if I was sitting in front of it.

And yet mobile is just so darned so convenient. Who among us hasn’t been stuck in a waiting room or something and wished that they could somehow play their favorite MMO? So I’ve been on a quest for a while for a good MMORPG (or even an MMO-ish ARPG) that I can play when I’m AFK. Sadly, I’ve mostly searched in vain. I’ve waded through a lot of badly translated imports (poor translations ruin the experience for me; I’d rather have no dialog than bad dialog) and mediocre gameplay without finding much worth playing.

I think I first came across Crusaders of Light on Massively OP. It’s pretty much your standard Chinese WoW clone. The graphics, while very clearly trying to imitate Blizzard’s iconic style, are passable, and the gameplay looked fun enough, so I gave it a shot. I was impressed by the fact that it’s fully voiced. I’ve always felt that fully voiced media has better translation than plain text, not only because it means that the company had to sink a decent amount of money into translation, but also because you at least had to get an English speaking person (presumably a native speaker) to read the lines, and they will probably object to awkward syntax or outright nonsense phrases. I also enjoy the combat. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s fun to run around, dodging red circles and slinging fireballs. I’ve resigned that autopath/autoplay is just a thing that all mobile MMOs seem to have. I get it, it’s annoying to run for long periods on a mobile device, but it also serves to disconnect me from the game. At least Crusaders of Light makes me feel a little more in control, asking me to press buttons to interact with objects instead of just watching my character gather five flowers and return to the questgiver with zero input from me (the moment I decided Lineage II mobile wasn’t for me was the moment when my phone went to sleep due to inactivity while I was “playing”). Also, pressing any button stops the autopathing, which is nice because some games I’ve tried have made me feel like I’m fighting the game for control until I tap the quest button to stop autoplay.

Overall, it’s far from the best game I’ve ever played, but it’s the closest thing to having a decent MMORPG experience on my phone that I’ve found so far. I’m still pretty early on in the game, and I can see it getting old fast, so we’ll see if there’s enough to keep me coming back.

Let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions for mobile MMOs! I’ll definitely be going back to RuneScape (probably just Oldschool, but who knows) when that launches on mobile, and if the Tree of Savior mobile version ever materializes I’d be interested to give that a shot too.

Fashionably Late to the Overwatch Party

Continuing my trend of picking up ActiBlizz titles after they’re no longer cool, I’ve recently gotten into Overwatch. I’m a little less late to this party than Diablo III, but still, at this rate, I’ll be playing Destiny 2 circa 2047. The funny thing is, I didn’t actually want Overwatch. I’m not a big fan of shooters or competitive-only games. I played the beta back in ’16, and thought to myself “Self, if ever I was to get into a shooter, this would probably be it. But I can’t justify $60 for it, because I’m probably never going to play.” Plus I was always bitter that it could have made such a great MMO, but instead they scrapped that and made a Team Fortress 2 clone.

So why did I end up getting it? My wife bought it for me. She’s not the biggest gamer in the world; she really likes Guild Wars 2, but generally the other gaming we do together involves me dragging her around to Star Wars the Old Republic or Elder Scrolls Online. It’s not that she doesn’t like those games, but new and different games tend to stress her out. So that’s why I was surprised when she started talking about getting Overwatch. The theater where she used to work used to run ads for the game, which caught her attention, and she also has several friends who play. A few weeks ago, we found a couple of copies of the GotY edition on sale for more than half off, so my wife bought each of us a copy, and ever since we’ve been playing a few games every night that we have free time.

As I said, I’m not a big fan of competitive shooters. That’s mainly because I’m pretty bad at them. I’ve played mostly against bots so far, though I’ve been brave enough to try a few normal matches (sorry to anyone who’s been paired up with me). I really like the wide variety of characters available. So far my favorite characters are mostly defensive and support (which should be unsurprising to anyone who plays MMOs with me), specifically Bastion, Orisa, Moira, and Torbjorn. I’m really bad at the squishy DPS characters, so I’ve mostly avoided that whole section, but I really want to spend some more time playing Pharah, because her jetpack seems really fun to me (as long as I can stay alive).

So far, the community has been surprisingly jerk-free. I know they’re out there, and I’ll probably run into them more as I rank up, but I’m enjoying it while I can. My biggest complaint so far? I wish there were a way to earn credits outside of getting dupes from lockboxes. I really want that Nova Terra outfit for Widowmaker (even though I’m not that good with her) or the Immortal Orisa (both StarCraft crossovers). If my luck so far is any indication, I doubt I’ll get either from a random drop. It would also be nice if I could sell costumes that I’m never going to use. I’d also be willing to pay money to buy outfits directly, but this is the Age of the Lockbox, so I doubt either of those things are ever going to happen. But hey, if the biggest thing I can find to complain about is that I’m not getting cosmetics fast enough, I guess the game isn’t doing too bad.

Do MMO Control Schemes Discourage Player Interaction?


It is widely agreed that MMO players are less social than they used to be. This is a very complicated issue, and people have suggested a lot of reasons. A common scapegoat is the advent of dungeon/raid finders, which disincentivize players from forming long term relationships in guilds and such. Some blame the casualization of the genre, with players pushing for systems that allow for fast and furious consumption of content, with no reason to slow down and talk to the other players around them. Most importantly, in my opinion, is that Internet culture has simply changed. It’s no longer novel to be talking to someone in another city, another state, or even another country while playing a video game like it was when I started playing MMOs in 2005. Of course, there are always those ever-present rose tinted glasses that players tend to wear when looking back on their early days in gaming.

Then a tweet from blogger (or, sadly, ex-blogger) Braxwolf, got me thinking:

My immediate reaction was that, while I think he’s correct in saying that this is a general trend in MMOs these days, I’ve had that same experience of people snubbing me in chat in Elder Scrolls Online more than in any other game I play. I think that this is, in part, due to the minimalistic UI that the Elder Scrolls series employs. It wasn’t too long ago that we didn’t even have nameplates above characters’ heads, and chat bubbles still don’t usually seem to work for me. It might also be that the players have hidden chat, either to increase immersion or block out whatever political flame war is going on at the moment. But for me, I think the biggest discouragement to interaction when playing ESO versus other MMOs is the control scheme, which is something I had never really thought about.

Back in 2005 and for many years thereafter, I played RuneScape extensively. For those not familiar with the game, it’s an oldschool style game that involves a lot of grinding out levels by clicking on stuff and watching while your character does some action repeatedly–chop a tree, harpoon for sharks, swing a sword, whatever–until the thing you were doing got used up/moved/died. I know that sounds terribly boring, and… well, quite honestly, it kind of was most of the time, but that’s what we did for fun back in my day and we liked it, dangit. But all of this waiting around while your character did stuff allowed for random conversations to pop up. Yes, the average age of the playerbase was probably barely in the teens at the time, so half the time you didn’t want to hear what was being said, but every so often you found someone really cool, added them to your friends list, and talked to them whenever you were bored with no one around. I made some of the best Internet friends this way, and I’m still really sad that I lost touch with some of them.

Later, games moved away from point-and-click controls to more WoW-style controls, and now we’re seeing more and more games (like ESO) with shooter-style action combat controls. In these games you can’t really type without bringing your gameplay to a grinding halt, or at best running the risk of autorunning off of a cliff. ESO takes this a step further, by enabling gamepad support. I’m not sure how many players use gamepads, but I know that if I was, there would have to be something really important to say to get me to put down my gamepad, reach over to my keyboard, type out my message, and then pick up my gamepad again. I’m certainly not going to hold a conversation going back and forth this way.

There are, of course, methods of interaction other than typing. Most notable is voice chat, which has become more accessible than ever with the advent of free platforms like Skype and Discord. But these communication methods are limited to persistent groups like guilds, not organically formed parties or random passersby, and they can be very finicky to set up. Honestly, I think it would be a huge turnoff to have voice chat enabled for just anyone, partly because I hate the sound of my own voice and want random Internet strangers to hear it as little as possible, but mainly because that would make the random obscenities and vitriol that so often crop up in zone chat all the more intrusive and draining.

I don’t really have a good solution for this problem. I don’t really want to go back to point-and-click games, but I think that modern controls schemes, along with all of the other factors mentioned at the opening of this post, have increasingly dragged down social interaction in MMOs. Is there a middle ground? A solution that wouldn’t just be annoying and inconvenient and simply push players away? Probably not. We’ll probably never be as social as we were back in the olden days, and that’s a reality that we’re just going to have to live with.